Atchley, Dana: ABC DESIGN [A Modular Alphabet Book]. Wittenborn and Co., 1965. 1/200 screen printed copies.

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A Modular Alphabet Book

Dana Atchley

Dana Atchley: ABC DESIGN [A Modular Alphabet Book]. New York: Wittenborn and Co., 1965. First edition [200 copies designed by Dana Atchley and screen printed by Gerald Thornton in July 1965. This is signed copy 195]. Octavo. Black paper covered boards. 44 pp. 27 screen printed pages. Plastic stencil laid in. Endpaper gutters foxed. Sunfaded spine, two chips missing along the top fore edge, and two tears along the top fore edge. Gift Inscription to Gene and Helen Federico from Nathan Gluck in 1966 to front free endpaper. A very good copy in a good dust jacket. Rare.

“The alphabet can be made from three basic lines: straight, slanted and curved.”

6.25 x 9.5 hard cover book with 44 pages: 27 of which are multicolor silkscreen prints. “Letters and designs can be made with the stencil. Some letters have only one part; others, like g, have as many as six parts. “

Type designers Theo van Doesburg [De stijl], Jan Tschichold [Transito, 1931], Josef Albers, Andy Mangold, Wim Crouwel and Zuzana Licko have all solved the puzzle of the modular alphabet in a variety of ways. Dana Atchley’s 1965 artist book is a relatively unknown DIY-based treatise on the subject.

Josef Albers: Regarding “Stencil Typeface” [1926]

It is intended to be a typeface for advertisements and posters, especially for larger sizes, which is clearly legible at some distance. The legibility of the most commonly used typefaces decreases with distance, probably the least with “Egyptienne”, which was first developed as a military typeface under Napoleon I. The “stencil typeface” increases legibility at a distance.

It is made up exclusively of basic geometric shapes, as are “Egyptienne” and “Grotesk” in part, and specifically of the following three: the square, the triangle (half of the square cut diagonally), and the quarter circle whose radius corresponds to the side of the square. The elements of the letters combined from these shapes stand unconnected next to each other: the hairstrokesi are replaced by relationships of size and movement of the purely flat elements.

The size ratio is 1:3 throughout. The height of the small main stem [Balken] equals three times the width. The distance between the letters is 1/3 the width of the bar. The sides of the triangle (square divided diagonally in 2) are 2/3 of the total of the squareʼs sides. The minuscules measure 2/3 of the ascender. The distance between the characters is uniform throughout, so there is no compensation or adapting as is otherwise customary with round shapes. The furniture (overhang?)j is, on both sides, equal to the inner distance. In doing so, and by composing it of the same elements, a standardization of the typeface proportions results. The type and furniture can thus be cut precisely with machines.

The line does not have any tracking added to it, it is no longer justified.

The distances between words and letters, giving the impression of variously sized gaps, are no longer the exception, but rather are dispersed all over the writing area. They [the spaces] will enliven it, just as large capital letters did when placed in the middle of a word during the Baroque era. Thus, justified typesetting is abandoned. The vertical orientation of the line may be on the left or right, as one wishes, or not at all, possibly alternating with each paragraph. Because the vertical orientation is not always on the left, the transition from the end of one line to the beginning of the next is made easier when reading. When there are long lines in justified text, the next line is often incorrectly identified or one might re-read the same line. The eye never errs before or after an indented line because it unconsciously notes the distance. If the line is vertically oriented to the left side, finding the beginning of the line is made more difficult.

The standardization of the constitutive elements of the letters allows reducing the letter to its basic elements when there is a modest need for especially large typefaces. The extent of the typesetting material is significantly reduced and at the same time we obtain parts for lines and geometric shapes, arches, circles, etc.; in short, elements for a wide variety of material that may be used for emphasis.